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Upcoming Big Sky meeting at UND to deal with a number of issues on and off the field

The Big Sky Conference will hold its spring meetings in Grand Forks beginning Monday. And the three-day session is scheduled to go far beyond what happens on the court and on the field.

In what may be the first of its kind for an athletic conference, the Big Sky will host the inaugural Student-Athlete Health and Wellness Symposium, which will feature nearly 20 experts from around the league who will discuss issues ranging from concussions to stress management to sexual assault to drug and alcohol abuse.

The idea for the symposium resulted after Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA chief medical officer, spoke to Big Sky presidents last fall and identified mental health issues as a major concern among the collegiate athletes.

“I don’t know of any other conference doing this,” said Doug Fullerton, the Big Sky commissioner. “We’re kind of stepping out there. It’s going to be interesting and I really like the presenters that we have.

“When you speak about student-athlete health, everyone thinks about the concussion issue. But what we have found is that the health issues faced by students in general and student-athletes in particular, are much broader than what happens on the field. Mental health and related issues of substance abuse, violence, and sexual assault are all issues faced on a modern campus.”

UND has been in the Big Sky for the past two years. This will mark the first time that presidents, athletic directors, senior women administrators and faculty reps from all of the universities in the league will be in Grand Forks.

Symposium sessions begin Tuesday. Among the topics scheduled to be covered at UND include:

  •  The challenge of meeting the mental health needs of the athletes.
  •  The implementation of sexual assault prevention programs on campus.
  •  A look at anxiety, depression and suicide and ways of engaging and supporting the struggling athlete.
  •  Stress management among athletes.
  •  Coaching and mentoring athletes through alcohol and drug issues
  •  Diagnosing and treating concussions.
  •  The mindful athlete and how athletes can live a more balanced life.

“The more I read about it, the more I’m intrigued,” said Fullerton of the mindful athlete session. “It’s an interesting subject.”

Basketball tourney also on the schedule

In addition to the symposium, the Big Sky spring meeting will address competition issues as well — the biggest perhaps being whether the league should centralize its men’s and women’s postseason basketball tournaments.

There is a movement within the league to seek approval from the Big Sky presidents to move both tournaments to Las Vegas.

No formal proposal has been presented and no site is even in the works. But a number of leagues already play their tournaments at predetermined sites, including Las Vegas.

Currently, the Big Sky tournaments are played at the site of the regular-season champions. The top seven teams in the regular season qualify for the tournament, with the regular-season champion earning a first-round bye.

However, that format, which has been used by the Big Sky for a decade, can create last-minute travel issues for teams and fans.

The request to move the tournaments to Vegas came from some of the league’s athletic directors and basketball coaches.

“I promised them an open-minded look at this,” said Fullerton.

The presidents, however, will make the final decision whether the tournaments will be played in Vegas. Whether that vote comes this week in Grand Forks, however, is up in the air.

Another factor in moving the tournament is the addition of Idaho to the Big Sky, beginning in July. Idaho will be a Big Sky member in all sports but football.

The addition of Idaho brings the number of basketball teams to 12. That means the league will drop its 20-game conference schedule for an unbalanced 18-game schedule.

Each team will play seven teams twice and the other four teams once.

One concern is that the unbalanced schedule will not accurately reflect the regular-season champion.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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